After starting conference play last weekend with a 2-1 series win over UNLV, the Frogs return to non-conference action this weekend when they host former SWC and CUSA rival Houston for a three-game set at Lupton. The Cougars, at 11-11, have an RPI of #43, making them one of the higher-ranked teams remaining on the Frogs' schedule and thus making this series an important one for TCU's hopes of hosting any postseason baseball.
The main storyline to look for this weekend is TCU pitching vs. Houston hitting. Like the Frogs' midweek opponent, Texas State, the Cougars can flat-out mash the ball. They are hitting .313 as a team, with four players hitting above .370. They don't hit for a lot of power (just nine total home runs), but they can push a lot runs across the plate- they've scored more than ten runs in a game six different times already this year. Sophomore shortstop Chase Jensen (an Arlington Martin product) and senior outfielder Caleb Ramsey have driven in the most runs with 24 and 26 respectively, while junior DH Matt Creel leads the team with a .397 batting average. Junior catcher John Cannon isn't far behind Creel, batting a salty .391- but if you'll allow me to be a complete baseball nerd for a minute, his on-base percentage is .494. Overrated stat? Possibly, but MLB scouts salivate over it and it means he's keeping innings going by getting on base nearly half the times that he steps to the plate.
TCU's pitching rotation seems to have settled into a regular pattern, as it'll go Winkler-Purke-Maxwell again this weekend. And if you're unsure about the order of the days of the weekend, Rebecca Black is happy to clear that up for you.
How would an offensive juggernaut like U of H lose half their games? If you have to ask that question, you clearly aren't a Rangers fan. The Cougars' team ERA is 4.36 and their allowing opposing hitters to hit .304 against them. Mo Wiley, a 6'4" junior righty who's 1-1 with a 3.66 ERA in 14.1 innings pitched, goes against Winkler tonight. Jordan Lewis, a junior lefty with a 4.67 ERA and an opponents' batting average of .299 goes on Saturday and then Houston still has an ominous (for them) "TBA" for Sunday's game.
So while the TCU pitchers will have all they can handle in this series, hopefully the bats can continue their gradual emergence from hibernation. Jason Coats and Joe Weik, who were being counted on as major producers in the middle of the lineup, have shown some signs of life the past few weeks. In the meantime, Jantzen Witte and especially Brance Rivera (batting .405 with a 20-game hit streak going) continue to shoulder most of the load.
Tonight's series opener marks the return to Lupton of Todd Whitting. Now the Cougars' head coach, Whitting spent the past seven seasons as an assistant at TCU and was a major contributor to the Frogs' rise to prominence as a program. I'm not usually a big fan of standing ovations for members of the opposing team, but in my opinion the Lupton crowd ought to be on it's feet multiple times this weekend for Coach Whitting.
All three games will be carried live on The Mtn, for those of you who have DirecTV. They'll also be streamed live (video and audio) on grofrogs.com if you want to sit by your computer all weekend. If not, they'll all be on 88.7, which can be heard online at ktcu.net or on your phone by dialing 682-233-6382. You can also follow either @TCU_Baseball or @FollowtheFrogs, who both usually give pretty good updates via twitter.